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Street Literature, Cheap Print, Popular Culture and the Booktrade

10th July 2012

Print Networks Conference, University of Leicester
10-12 July, 2012


‘Street Literature: cheap print, popular culture and the book trade’ is an international conference organized jointly by 'Print Networks' and the Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester.

The Print Networks is the conference arm of the British Book Trade Index (BBTI) an AHRC funded project established to compile an index of the names and brief biographical details and trade details of people who worked in the book trade in England and Wales and who were trading by 1851.

This peer-reviewed conference invited interdisciplinary approaches to the topic. The theme of Street Literature: cheap print, popular culture and the book trade is broadly defined and the conference will consider topics which relate to as-pects of the production, distribution and reception of ‘street literature’ (chapbooks, ballads, broadsides, newspapers, popular prints and other cheap printed matter) in the British Isles, or in other English-speaking parts of the world, be-tween the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, inclusive.


Gentlemen’s magazines: or the street literature of streetwalkers

This paper will discuss the development of London’s licentious street literature from the gentlemen’s guides of the early Restoration to the suggestive tart cards of the present day.
John Garfield inaugurated the trend for London’s licentious literature when he published The Wandering Whore [1660-61], which ran for five issues and listed the streets in which prostitutes and brothels might been found. This was followed by A Catalogue of Jilts, Cracks & Prostitutes, Nightwalkers, Whores, She-friends, Kind Women and others of the Linnen-lifting Tribe, which as printed in 1691 and catalogued the physical attributes of London’s Restoration street walkers.

Probably the most well-known of such publications was Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies. During its heyday (1757-95) Harris's List was the essential accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure. An annual ‘guide book’, it detailed the names and ‘specialities’ of the capital’s prostitutes. For almost 30 years, Harris’s List was the essential gentleman's accessory for a night on the town: it was a bestseller of the eighteenth century, selling 250,000 copies in an age before mass consumerism.

But not all such street literature was produced in book format: most of it was of an ephemeral nature. In Victorian London, prostitutes distributed business cards to theatres and music halls, the cards were placed in sealed envelopes that were printed with delicately suggestive rhymes: few examples survive. For much of the twentieth century, the girls publicised their services by placing discrete and euphemistic handwritten notices in newsagents windows and next to adverts for second-hand pianos appeared hand-written cards for ‘continental rain-ware model’ or ‘French lessons’!

Today, London prostitutes advertise their services through ‘tart cards’, which have become as ubiquitous a symbol of that city as the red telephone boxes in which they are found. Step into any Central London call box an you can contemplate up to 80 cards inviting you to be tied or teased either in luxury apartments, fully-equipped chambers or the privacy of your own hotel room.

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